By Ruth Fritz
hilosophy and fashion seem like two things that simply do not mix. Is there any meaning in fashion at all? The two seem separate even when they are combined. The philosophy of fashion is a subject that is not often explored in a comprehensive manner. Fashion is either assumed to be important or it is unilaterally disregarded. There is an increasing need to reimagine fashion, which is why designers like classics professor Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal are so crucial and why style icons such as philosophy professor John Macready should not only be observed but also engaged in discussion concerning fashion. The two, who taught a Philosophy of Fashion course together, have something meaningful to contribute philosophically as well as aesthetically.
The theory of the modern world of fashion is a very underdeveloped form of thought. To outsiders, fashion designers seem to have arbitrary standards that they impose without caring to explain or even entertain the philosophical and practical implications of their work. They announce which styles will be prevalent for the amount of time that they determine. Is Grewal any different? Well, she is and she is not. She has standards but she is open to discourse and also encourages exploration. Macready commented that he and Grewal are participating in a “dialectic” enterprise in fashion. They wear traditional vestments while “individuating” these traditions to fit their own particularities. He described Grewal’s style as a combination of Gothic and Victorian, and his own as a combination of dandyism and punk.
Grewal has her own fashion line, Hardly Alice, which she describes as a “wonderland.”
“[It] is as broad a theme as it could be. Alice grows or shrinks depending on what she eats,” Grewal said. Her work was recently featured in the Pin Show, which is a show exclusively for independent designers from around Texas. Hardly Alice is peculiar and entrancing.
“[It] is meant to inspire fantastical appearances that transport one from the shelves,” Grewal said. “I want people to fall in love with an idea, for I think fashion is based on the mind, not the body. It has the ability to change the world.”
In the fall of 2012, Macready and Grewal taught Philosophy of Fashion to investigate the connections between philosophy and fashion. The purpose of the course was to configure solutions to dilemmas concerning the two disciplines, namely, whether “fashion [is] substantial or superficial,” as Macready’s presentation on the subject states.
While this class did not include analysis of trends, it did open up a conversation with the students concerning the significance of fashion. Human beings gravitate toward conformity as a survival instinct, wanting to fit in with the tribe they are going to live with, which will presumably protect them. However, they also desire to distinguish themselves from this tribe. All humans want to be one distinct part of a cohesive whole. Language allows people to communicate their individuality with one another; so does fashion. Both are methods of using symbols to make oneself understood to other humans. Macready defines fashion as this means of communication.
“[It is] bodily adornment situated between the body and the world as a symbol of individuality and conformity,” he said.
It is uncertain whether or not this class will be continued, but Macready expressed interest in renewing and revamping the project. He suggested that the course might be developed to include fashion over time as reflective of changing systems of thought. Certainly this topic warrants further investigation. It seems that just because there are not comprehensive answers yet to the questions involving the philosophy of fashion does not mean that there are not any waiting further down the rabbit hole.